Help For the Harried Homeschool Mom: Tips for Homeschooling with Infants & Toddlers
By Melissa D. Jaramillo
Another day begins… The “alarm bell,” otherwise known as that newborn infant you must have thought was a bright idea ten months ago jerks you out of that not so sound sleep. In a daze, you stumble to the rocker and begin to feed the baby… As he eats, your thoughts wander (not that rare of an occurrence now is it?) You know all that MUST be accomplished today… but cringe as thoughts of yesterday creep in.
“It couldn’t have been that bad?” you try to convince yourself… Ahhh, but it was!!! Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The baby wouldn’t nurse more than 5 minutes at a time… which meant that he was nursing EVERY other 5 minutes!! Someone stopped up the toilet. Someone else flushed… The toddler decided that she would “help” by getting the container of Kool-aid mix out… The whole container is opened and dumped on the couch. The kindergartner in his valid try to protect “Miss Innocent” attempts to hide the evidence. He grabs a wet rag to wipe it off. Need you even ask?? Of COURSE it was cherry!!! You needed to turn in a progress report and could not locate the necessary test results… Your child that yesterday KNEW how to do long division suddenly looked at you as if you were speaking a foreign language…. Speaking of which, you realize that Spanish curriculum you ordered (& paid for!!) still has not arrived. *sigh*
And that was all before 9 a.m. You shudder, not wishing to relive the rest of the day.
“Today is going to be different!” you vow. You are organized! You are psyched! You have a LIST!! You are crazy….. or about to be if you don’t give yourself a chance to adjust.
Bringing in a new member of the family requires.. yes, REQUIRES that you make adjustments in ALL aspects of your life.. This goes for laundry, meal planning, errands, and yes, homeschooling. Without becoming a bit flexible, the more you try to force yourself and your family into your “regular” routine, the more behind, upset, harried, and just plain frustrated you will become. I know. I’ve been there/done that 5+ times now.
Here are some ideas I have found that make things a bit more bearable (ha!! Or should I say that make me LESS of a bear!
Flexibility: With infants & toddlers in the house, flexibility is a must. To still meet the accomplishments that we need to, instead of having a set daily schedule, we have goals which are to be met by week’s end. This allows both parent and child to complete what is required without becoming overwhelmed by those thousand and one “little interruptions.”
Planning: This trickles down into almost all aspects of our lives. Taking the time to map out meals, schedules, errands, and “must do’s” ahead of time truly DOES save time later on. At a glance, I know what needs to be pulled out of the freezer for dinner, know that by “2 p.m.” we have to be finished with school to make that doctor’s appointment, and recognize some areas that we need to perhaps put more emphasis on in completing.
Shopping: While this falls under the planning category, I still want to really emphasize the importance of having a list… sticking to it and having just one big shopping trip rather than several little ones throughout the week. This tip also helps your budget as well!
Laundry: Stay on top of it… doing 1 or 2 loads / day. Otherwise, you will find that “something” happens in the laundry room. I am absolutely CONVINCED that dirty clothes have a high fertility rate. They multiply until becoming a large mountain requiring oxygen to reach the peak!! Consider the frequent laundry cycles as birth control for grimy clothes.
Utilize naptime: By this I mean to perhaps save those classes which require your complete attention for your toddlers nap period. (I generally can’t count on my infant being on a set routine ’til almost a year as I feed on demand.) Babies aren’t my “problem” as much as the toddler that is busy trying to yank her brother’s papers or to feel that since mom’s attention seems focused elsewhere that signals the PERFECT time for running amok! NOT!!
Have “school” for your toddler: In her area set aside paper, fat crayons, (NOT markers unless you wish to spend the rest of the afternoon scrubbing down walls and trying to locate the cleaning solution for the carpet!), big things like Legos, alphabet blocks, sorting rings, etc… Include anything that will perhaps manage to occupy her for a few minutes. One thing that I have found is NOT to allow access to all the above at once. Give one thing at a time until she is ready to move on to something else. As many of you know their attention span is short. By including the toddler though in as much as possible you will spend less time tracking them down. Here is one example: During Religion class, I give her a related picture to color. While working with early readers, I may give her alphabet blocks or puzzles. Math? Encourage her to count or sort with the Legos..
Use older siblings to your advantage: When one needs to work on reading aloud, let him do so with the younger ones. It’s a win-win situation. The younger may actually learn something while the older ones feel that pride of accomplishment.
Independent Study: Realize that you cannot (nor should you necessarily) sit on top of your older students to monitor their every move. Get them started and then allow them some independence in study. Remain close by to answer questions and provide guidance of course, but don’t feel like you MUST sit right there.
Floor time: While most parents don’t need to hear this, some do. Get on the floor with your children!! Story-time, lectures, etc. all can be shared while sitting on the floor. Just a few minutes ago, for instance, we completed a study of Knights in the Middle Ages. I had the infant on my lap (nursing… now it is a growth spurt going on!), the toddler was on my left playing with her brother’s Fisher-Price Knights and Castle.. The older ones were in various positions around as we discussed the formation of castles, the significance of the structure and placement, and various weapons used while poring over a DK book. Everyone was able to learn and feel a part of the “class.” They then went on to do their various assignments at the kitchen table.
Organization: Ok… I’m still a work in progress. I’m notorious for saving stuff that we don’t need “just in case”… I admire those that ARE organized… that are able to sift through the clutter and go so far as to DISPOSE of the junk. Those households and homeschooling in this manner seem to just run more smoothly. Oh well… never said I was perfect.
The bottom line is this.. One of the most fantastic aspects of homeschooling is that we have options…. all sorts of options enable us to move forward or adjust our pace as needed for any reason. Relax, enjoy your family just as it is. Take pride in those things accomplished and apply patience to those things that weren’t. Homeschooling is an adventure that like childhood, flees all too fast. That child that is your “terrible two” today, graduates tomorrow. Don’t spend too much time dwelling on what you “should have” “could have” done… but look forward to having a brand new beginning each day.
Now…. Does anyone know how to get the cherry Kool-aid out of my couch?
First published in the July 2002 edition of “Right at Home” magazine.
Used by permission. Copyright 2002 Melissa D. Jaramillo
One thing the article above does not address…
I personally feel children need to learn to respect other people’s time and space at a very early age. Even as toddlers I was able to enjoy reading or twenty minutes of bill paying (OK, I never really enjoy bill paying) while my children were in the same room because I worked at teaching them that my time was important just as their time was. After reading to them, playing with blocks, putting on puppet shows, and cooking up a batch of play dough, I think I deserve twenty minutes of quite time to read, talk on the phone, or just be. So to, does each child deserve some one on one time.
I would explain to my younger daughter that her brother needed to me to help him concentrate on math (or whatever the subject was) and that we were not to be interrupted. He older brother gives her his time– washing her hair, helping her pick out clothes, reading to her and even feeding her when she feels in the mood, and she had to reciprocate by giving up some of “her” time as well. She responds well to this, and between just trying to reason with her as well as incorporating her as much as possible, things worked out well.
This is just my approach, my opinion, and something that has worked in our home.
~ Carmen Isais
Aesops Room – Waldorf Supplies
Special Thanks to Melissa and Carmen.
Compiled by Kytka Hilmar-Jezek, Ph.D.
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